Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Emil Zatopek, Legendary Runner #1

As you can see by the subject heading, Emil Zatopek is my #1 runner on my list of most influential runners. I will confess that during high school, Zatopek was my favorite runner. I loved reading about him and all his accomplishments. In the midst of races, I would try to duplicate the same toughness he displayed throughout his career. There are numerous pictures, like the one to the left (courtesy of, displaying his unmistakable form. To the dismay of my coach, I tried to emulate his form.

"The Czech Locomotive", as he was known, competed in three Olympics ('48-'56) garnering 4 gold and 1 silver medals. In his career, Zatopek broke 18 world records in the distances ranging from 5000m. to 30000m. He was the first to break 29 minutes in the 10000m. and to run 20000m. in under an hour. Between 1948 and 1954, Zatopek won 38 straight 10000m. races. In the 1952 Olympics, Zatopek accomplished the feat of being the only runner in history to win the three longest running distances (5K, 10K and the marathon) in the same games.

Zatopek is the answer to another trivia question as he and his wife, Dana Zatopkova, are the only married couple to win gold medals. Dana won her gold medal in the javelin as Emil was finishing up his marathon in '52. She also won a silver in '60 to bring their total family total to 7 Olympic medals.

He was a giant in the sport of Track and Field but will also be remembered for his giant heart, generosity and camaraderie. He spoke seven languages and was friendly with many of his foes, speaking to them in their native language. His most memorable gesture was giving Ron Clarke his very own gold medal that he had won in the 1952 10000m. race. Clarke was a great runner in his own right who was never able to win an Olympic gold medal. I just can't conceive of another person giving up his medal to another athlete in the same manner Zatopek (seen here in the '52, 5000m. final courtesy of did with Clarke.

Frenchman, Alain Mimoun, finished 2nd. to Zatopek in three separate Olympic races. In the 1956 Olympics, Mimoun and Zatopek were competing against each other, this time in the marathon. Not running at his best, Zatopek encouraged Mimoun during the race by telling him "You go, this is your day". Mimoun went on to win but in respect to his great competitor, waited for him at the finish line as Zatopek came in, finishing 6th. Zatopek, showing grace in defeat, took his painter's hat off and saluted the victor.

Zatopek studied the training of Paavo Nurmi and being without a coach, devised many original training ideas. During Zatopek's era, distance runners trained by running long distances each day. Zatopek trained by running intervals such as 20-40 times 400m. repeats several times a week. He ran in snow with heavy boots. When asked about his interval training, Zatopek replied "Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast. Everyone said, 'Emil, you are a fool!' But when I first won the European Championship, they said: 'Emil, you are a genius!" Many of his training methods are utilized to this day. Picture to the left is of Zatopek and his wife Dana courtesy of

His legend will live on even after his death in 2000 due to a virus. Ron Clarke, perhaps the man most affected by Zatopek, said it best, "His enthusiasm, his friendliness, his love of life, shone through every movement. There is not and never was a greater man than Emil Zatopek."

Don't forget to vote for the greatest distance runner ever in the poll to the right. Five days to go before it closes.


Anonymous said...

Love the list. Thanks for the research and work. The pictures of Zatopek are worth at least a thousand words.

Albert Caruana said...

Thank you very much. I appreciate the positive feedback.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this list (maybe would've switched 1 and 2) just kidding, I found it very informative and insightful, very nicely done.

Maya said...

The Great Emil Zatopec a True Inspiration. One of the most exiting and entertaining distance runners of all time..
A good spirit!

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